Rumor has it that there was, in fact, a net located behind Garrett Porter this season.
Because Oakdale's imposing 6-foot-6 goaltender rarely allowed opponents to get a clear view of that net, there is no way they could be absolutely certain.
What is certain is that no one played a larger role in Oakdale's unbeaten run through the Modesto Metro Conference, resulting in the water polo championship. Overall, the Mustangs compiled a 29-4 record and reached the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division 1 quarterfinals. For his stellar efforts as both the Mustangs' defensive rock and offensive catalyst, Porter is The Bee's 2009 Stanislaus District Boys Water Polo Player of the Year.
"It was just an awesome season," said Porter. "Defense was definitely our key this year. When we played solid defense, the offense just came together."
Porter was the glue that held everything together, according to Oakdale coach Alan Stender.
"Garrett was a great leader," said Stender. "He's just a great Christian kid with good morals. His play, most of the time, was outstanding and really fired up our defense, and he kept us in a lot of games that we probably could have let slip away. He exudes confidence, but not in an egotistical way. He's very humble and just goes about a quiet course. He never really got too excited and always kept his composure.
"We were blessed to have him on our team."
And a little lucky, too.
Porter's season was almost over before it began after he injured himself during a slam-dunk contest.
"It was for a high school rally. They were planning a dunk contest and I thought it would be fun to do it with a couple of my basketball buddies. I tried to throw down with two hands and I held onto the rim too long and I ended up shattering my left elbow," said Porter. "I was lucky to play at all this year.
"At one point, I was told I wasn't gonna be able to get much movement out of it and that I probably wouldn't be able to play. I went to physical therapy and luckily it ended up pretty good."
Given a second chance, Porter dedicated himself to improving his game — particularly in passing and conditioning. The extra work paid off.
"I worked on being in better position, being more prepared and in better shape," said Porter. "You have to be the quarterback out there. I worked a lot on my passing and I think that's one area where I've improved a lot."
Stender echoed that sentiment. He said that Porter's positive attitude and work ethic helped him improve even after a standout junior season during which he won a spot on The Bee's all-Stanislaus District team.
"Garrett worked really hard. He was carrying 5-gallon jugs of water over his head for many a practice to work on his leg strength," said Stender. "A lot of people just look at him as a 6-foot-6 blocker, but his passing is perfect. If we kept track of assists, two thirds of (leading scorer) Tyler Lee's goals were off passes from Garrett — and that goes for a lot of our other players, too.
"Many of his passes on our counterattack were just picture perfect. Very seldom did he make a passing error."
Porter, a three-year starter, finished his senior season with 326 saves. But he became more aggressive away from the net.
"He came out and made steals, which was something he really excelled at this year," said Stender. "That was probably one of the biggest improvements he made to his game."
Among Porter's season highlights were a full-court goal, four 14-plus save performances against Sonora and Johansen and a 13-save effort in a win against Downey in which he limited Knights star Tim Richard — who shared MMC most valuable player honors with Porter — to one goal.
"Beating Sonora at Oakdale was a highlight because we always get beat up by them," said Porter.
"The way to measure goalies is by how many goals they allow per game," said Stender. "Garrett averaged 4.4 when we averaged 12.1. If we could have held any and all teams to 4.4 goals, we win every game."
Porter, who aspires to become a firefighter, hopes to continue his playing career at the collegiate level.
"I don't know where, but it would be nice to keep playing," said Porter. "Hopefully it doesn't end here."
Stender has every confidence that it won't.
"I don't think there's any question that he can play Division I water polo in college," said Stender. "As with any team, you've got to work hard and rise to the next level of play, but there's no question that he can do it. It's a matter of where he wants to go and what he wants to do.
"I definitely think if the right school comes calling, he'll extend his water polo career."